Loan delinquencies increase at Countrywide

Countrywide Financial Corp., its stock pummeled this week by rumors of bankruptcy and lackluster housing market forecasts, said the percentage of borrowers who missed payments on home loans last month rose, signaling worsening trouble for the nation's largest mortgage lender and for the entire mortgage sector. The Los Angeles-based company also reported that it had funded $23.5 billion in loans in December, off sharply from $42.8 billion in the year-ago period. Countrywide stock ended down 6.4 percent, or 35 cents, at $5.12. The decline followed a loss of $2.17, or 28.4 percent, on Tuesday after the company denied rumors that a bankruptcy filing was imminent.

Alcoa quarterly profit rises 76 percent

Aluminum producer Alcoa Inc. said its fourth-quarter earnings soared 76 percent, buoyed by the pending sale of its packaging and consumer businesses. Net income rose to $632 million, or 75 cents per share, for the three months ended Dec. 31, from $359 million, or 41 cents per share, during the same period a year earlier. Shares in Pittsburgh-based Alcoa rose $1.20, or 3.8 percent, to $32.45 in after-hours trading. Before the results were released, the stock rose 25 cents in regular trading to close at $31.25 per share.

NYSE reportedly in talks to acquire Amex

The parent of the New York Stock Exchange is in talks to acquire a longtime rival, the smaller American Stock Exchange, according to the Wall Street Journal. The report, citing people familiar with the matter, indicated the privately held Amex could fetch as much as $350 million. Officials from NYSE Euronext, the Big Board's parent company, declined to comment. Amex didn't respond to a request for comment.

Chemical maker DuPont rosy on '07 and '08

Citing strong fourth-quarter results and prospects for growth in emerging markets, chemical maker DuPont on Wednesday raised its earnings outlook for 2007 as well as its profit forecast for 2008. The Dover, Del.-based company, which makes products from automotive coatings to genetically modified seeds, expects 2007 earnings at the upper end of its previously announced range of $3.15 to $3.20 a share, excluding one-time items. DuPont also boosted its 2008 earnings outlook to a range of $3.35 to $3.55 per share, up from a previous estimate of $3.31 to $3.52 per share. The company will report its fourth quarter and full-year 2007 results on Jan. 22. Shares jumped 4.8 percent, or $2.03, to $44.78 Wednesday.

Apple to lower its iTunes prices in Britain

Apple said it had agreed to cut the prices on its iTunes digital music store in Britain to align them with those on the Continent, settling an antitrust case brought by European regulators. The European Commission accused Apple last spring of unfairly charging British consumers more than their counterparts in the euro zone for tracks from iTunes, the dominant online music vendor. British consumers typically pay 79 pence, or $1.55, a song while iTunes stores in the euro zone charge 99 euro cents, or $1.46. Apple said that within six months it would lower prices for British consumers to bring them in line with those elsewhere in Europe. Neither the commission nor the company revealed details of the settlement.

Oil declines after offsetting inventory reports

Oil prices settled lower after swelling gasoline supplies offset a tumble in crude oil stockpiles to their lowest level in more than three years. Crude inventories fell 6.8 million barrels, or 2.3 percent, to 282.8 million barrels during the week ended Jan. 4, the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report. Light, sweet crude for February delivery lost 66 cents to settle at $95.67 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose as high as $97.97 after the inventory report.

Canadian union pooh-poohs Ford wage offer

Ford Motor Co. wants to make its Canadian factories more competitive with its U.S. and other operations in coming contract talks with the Canadian Auto Workers, but the union says it won't agree to two-tier wages and other changes that were ratified by the United Auto Workers in the United States. The UAW agreed with all three Detroit automakers to a lower-tier pay and benefits schedule for some new hires. New hires would make around $14 per hour, less than half what current assembly workers make. New hires also would get less-generous health and pension benefits. Up to 20 percent of Ford's hourly workforce can be paid the lower wages, plus all the workers at two parts-making plants.